Chapter 78 of Quest for the Blue Crystal

Billy advanced cautiously into the narrow cave opening at the base of the polar mountain, and found himself in a circular, high domed chamber of polished granite. The floor was perfectly flat, the walls featureless except for the opening through which he had just entered, and a matching door at the opposite end of the chamber. A figure clothed in furs was staring at Billy from the far opening.

Billy took a few steps into the chamber, and the other did the same. Both stopped exactly six paces into the room. Billy noted that the light that spilled in from the far door had a distinctly bluish tint; glancing behind, he noted that the light from his opening carried only a glaring white from the ice and snow outside.

“I come seeking the Blue Crystal,” both figures said at once, both raising their hands in a gesture of peace.

Billy dropped his hands and stared at the other, who had done exactly the same thing. Billy opened up his senses, focusing on the detection of magic spells. He probed carefully through the chamber. The spells were there; powerful, multilevel, and curiously simple. Symmetry was the essence of the spells; they exhibited themselves by reflection, like a mirror. But were they exact reflections? Were they visual only, or material? Easy enough to check.

Billy removed the outer layer of furs and wrappings from his face. Looking at the other figure, he wasn’t surprised to see his double had done the same thing and was staring back at him. His breath formed clouds of vapor as he walked through the cold still air towards his double; as they met in the middle of the chamber, Billy saw the same puffs of breath from the twin.

Billy thrust out his hand, which was met and stopped by an identical thrust by the twin. Contact was hard and sudden; the double was solid, not just a visual apparition. Well, not exactly identical, thought Billy. It’s a mirror image: I push with my right hand, he counters with his left. Opposing symmetry.

Perhaps if he were fast enough the double would not be able to keep up and the symmetry could be broken. Would the spell then collapse? He couldn’t be certain. The spells didn’t seem to allow for a break in the symmetry. But it seemed an obvious try.

Billy leaped up suddenly and lashed out with a vicious scissor kick at the double’s head. His foot was stopped jarringly by the impact with his opponent’s foot at the exact midpoint between them. Both Billies landed awkwardly, surprised at the speed of their double.

They got up. Palms forward they began to push against each other. Billy slid his hand left, then right; up, then down, trying to slip past the other’s defenses. Always his moves were countered at the imaginary plane of the mirror that ran across the center of the room.

Time to shift gears. Billy stepped back, gripping one of the wands inside his clothes and out of sight. Perhaps the double was limited to duplicating only the visual actions taken.  Eyes half closed, Billy formulated and actuated a spell that would make his troublesome double simply float into the air, high enough that Billy could just walk underneath.

Billy felt the opposing spell form simultaneously and begin to lift him. He formed new spells to oppose these, as did the double. In a fit of anger he tried probing inside the other’s mind, initiating a wizard’s duel. The other did the same and the unnerving sensation that he was probing his own mind with the intent to destroy it caused Billy to pull out abruptly with a yelp of frustration.

Billy sat on the floor to think over the situation. Physical means were simply no going to work. A magic duel was also impossible; in fighting yourself, you were the most likely to be injured. And the network of spells here could not just be dissolved. The magic was too strong, too well protected and powered. If only there were some way to negate it.

Billy and his double jumped up laughing. They each pulled a dagger out from the folds of their clothing, and proceeded to push the blade under their left (right) index fingers. The pain was intense, and Billy made no attempt to stifle it. Blood flowed from his finger as he walked over to his double and tried to walk through him. They bumped solidly.

“Damn it!” they shouted at one another. “You aren’t supposed to be here anymore! Pain stops magic!”

They glared at each other, then walked away. Billy tried a healing spell for his hand, but the pain prevented its actuation until he had calmed enough to block it from his consciousness. Billy reached out his mind, concentrating on detecting and analyzing the spells that formed and controlled the mirror imagery. Obviously the Crystal had placed its own defense a notch above the Strictures that it applied to everyone else. How then could those defenses be penetrated? There must be a way; Kratia was sure of it, and Nexus had hinted that adjustments to the Crystal’s programming were possible. So what was the way in?

Billy tried to impose his will over the network of spells in the chamber; with only partial success.  Any attempt to cancel the spell or alter its central focus on symmetry resulted in his mind being forced out of the network. He was limited to making minor alterations or additions to the spells.

The two Billies sat facing each other, each longing to get to the opening beyond the other; neither able. The air inside the cave was still quite cold, though it was well shielded from any outside winds. Billy blew a cloud of breath vapor at Billy Prime, as he did the same. The clouds met at the plane of symmetry and bounced off on another, swirling and fading away in perfect mirror imagery. Each Billy stared the clouds, frowning.

The imagery was not quite perfect. An eddy of his breath had swirled away in a gentle clockwise rotation, an effect of the Coriolis force. The eddy from the other Billy also rotated clockwise ‑ breaking the mirror symmetry! How was it succeeding when he could not?

Billy reached out his mental awareness again, probing deeper into the nature of the spells.

The Billies nodded their heads and slumped down, exhausted. They had discovered that the spells enforced symmetry only with respect to the actions they directly performed; the actions of other forces were not within the scope of the spells. The force of gravity, the illumination cast by the glow of the cave openings, the Ciriolis force of the world’s rotation,  all these were allowed to act independently, not reflexively, on both sides of the symmetry plane.

But could this observation be turned into an advantage, a key to penetrate the plane? Any action of his would be met with an identical (no, a right/left symmetrical) action by his double; how could the right/left difference be converted into a breaking of the positional symmetry of the two Billies?

What was it that he had heard at the Retil power station about the interrelationship of electromagnetism and motion? Billy concentrated, recalling details. There was a ‘left hand rule’ that demonstrated the relationship. Billy held up his left hand, index finger pointing straight up, thumb at right angles to it and pointing backwards towards the cave entrance, and the middle finger pointing right, at right angles to both thumb and index finger. If a conductor had current flow through it in the up direction (index finger), while magnetic flux lines traveled from the plane towards to back (thumb), then a motive force would be created which would push the conductor to the right.

Billy considered his double. Current flow would still be up; but magnetic flux lines would run from the plane towards the blue entrance: symmetrical but opposite in direction from his own. That would create a motive force to the left. Opposite to the force on this side. But could he fashion a spell that would safely allow him to be a conductor of electricity at the large current flow required? Would the crystal allow the formation of a high density magnetic field with the proper orientation? Most importantly, would the resultant opposite forces be allowed to act, moving each Billy in opposite directions?

One way to find out.

The two Billies began to concentrate, clutching their power wands. An invisible but rigid exoskeleton of conductivity surrounded each of them, a thin and magically perfect layer of insulation between it and their skin. The crystal’s spells had shown no resistance to the formation of the layers or to the magnetic fields of over fifty-thousand gauss that now surrounded them. Each Billy began to force current flow up through the exoskeleton; one amp; two; five; ten. The insulation held, the spells did not dissolve. Billy felt a pushing sensation to the right, resisted by his feet on the stone floor. To reduce friction, Billy overlaid a levitation spell; both Billies began floating a few inches into the air. They began to drift apart; he to the right, his double to the left.

Both smiled, and moved forward unimpeded. The second Billy vanished.